5 Things to Know Before You Buy a New Boiler

If you're worried that a new boiler might be in your future, start your research now, before the cold weather sets in. Read on for some boiler basics.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz | Updated Oct 28, 2015 11:10 AM

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How to Choose a Boiler

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When it comes to safeguarding the comfort and winter readiness of your home, time is of the essence. Don’t wait until the first frost to make sure your heating system is in good working order. Right now is the ideal time to conduct a thorough review of your home heating components. Think back to last year: Did you spend a small fortune to maintain a cozy, livable temperature throughout your home? Did you find yourself setting the thermostat lower than desired in an effort to hold down your sky-high bills? If either one of these problems sounds familiar, you certainly don’t want history to repeat itself. Here’s the good news: So long as you can pinpoint the source of your heating woes, you, in cooperation with trained professionals, can design a solution that will keep your home warm and your costs reasonable.

Determining the root cause of unsatisfactory HVAC performance isn’t always a straightforward task. But if your home features hydronic heating, those high operating costs most likely stem from the hardworking appliance at the heart of your system: the boiler. Simply put, “older boilers tend to waste a lot of energy,” according to David Kenyon, an HVAC specialist with Sears Home Services. In recent years, against a backdrop of rising energy costs and mounting environmental concerns, many of the newer boilers that have come onto the market boast better-than-ever levels of efficiency. Choosing a new boiler can be tricky, though. Continue reading to learn about the key considerations that should factor into any comprehensive selection process.

According to Kenyon, steam boilers are largely a thing of the past. “In modern homes with hydronic heat, you almost always see a hot-water boiler.” Even among hot-water boilers, though, there are fundamental variations; for instance, different units operate on different fuels. The Kenmore brand, for example, offers a range of boilers that includes some that run on oil, some on natural gas, and others on liquid propane. In your search, focus only on boilers intended to run on a fuel to which your home has cost-effective access. Fuel rates and availability are not uniform, so you have to be sure to match your new boiler to the fuels available where you live. If multiple options exist in your neck of the woods, it may be tempting to pick the cheapest. But bear in mind that switching fuel types usually involves establishing a new service line, and this installation can come with a hefty price tag. For that reason, Kenyon usually sees people replacing old boilers with new units of the same type, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Because of all the nuances at play, “it’s essential to work with a certified professional, even in the early stages,” Kenyon says. He notes that in-home consultations with Sears Home Services are free and that working with an established company can help you flesh out your project plan.

How to Choose a Boiler - Basement Unit

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It’s critical to choose a new boiler whose capacity precisely meets the demands of your home. In many cases, a boiler’s poor performance is simply the result of incorrect sizing. A too-large boiler, Kenyon explains, can lead to short-cycling, where the system cycles on and off faster than it should as it satisfies the home’s heating demands. A too-small boiler, however, may end up working too hard while still leaving interior spaces uncomfortably cool. Either situation leads not only to diminished boiler efficiency, but also to a shorter lifespan for the appliance. Despite the vital importance of proper sizing, boilers are often mismatched for their applications—an understandable miscalculation, given the number of variables that are involved in determining appropriate sizing. So many factors must be taken into account, from the number and placement of windows and doors to the amount of insulation installed in the home. Don’t know where to start? Consider contacting Sears Home Services. Sears routinely performs load calculations, and as part of a consulting visit to your home, a technical specialist can do this for free.

In terms of energy consumption, “appliances like televisions and computers pale in comparison to heating and cooling appliances,” Kenyon says. “So choosing an efficient boiler can really help keep down your costs each winter.” To differentiate between boilers of varying efficiency levels, check their Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings. Expressed as a percentage, the AFUE of a given boiler communicates how efficiently it converts fuel into heat energy. The most efficient boilers earn ENERGY STAR certification, with the Kenmore line installed by Sears Home Services including several such units. A high-efficiency boiler “may cost more upfront,” remarks Kenyon, “but remember that you stand to save a lot of money over the long term.”

To perform at peak efficiency and last as long as possible, every boiler requires regular maintenance. A standard maintenance routine includes a comprehensive review of the constituent parts—everything from the electrical connections to the flue piping. In addition, some boiler components may call for periodic cleaning (e.g., the drain line) or replacement (e.g., the air filter). Before you buy a new boiler, Kenyon says, “take the time to fully understand the maintenance requirements of the unit.” Ambitious do-it-yourselfers may able to handle some of it on their own, but once per year, Kenyon strongly recommends engaging a professional. Whether or not you choose Sears Home Services as your boiler installer, you can always hire the company to conduct annual boiler maintenance to catch any issues before the winter sets in.

“Don’t attempt to install a new boiler yourself,” warns Kenyon. “It’s not a do-it-yourself project. It’s really a job for the pros.” Improper installation can result in unequivocally negative consequences, ranging from the high financial cost of inefficient operation to the physical danger of “utterly unsafe” conditions. Give the project the respect it deserves by contracting with a reputable installer who holds sufficient bonding, insurance, and all relevant licenses. While there are likely to be wholly competent outfits in your local area, Kenyon points out that there are compelling reasons to work with a nationwide company like Sears Home Services. For instance, to demonstrate its commitment to customers, the company provides a Satisfaction Guarantee. Plus, whereas some boilers come with disappointing product warranties, Kenmore models are accompanied by a full seven years of Sears Master Protection (view details). In part, that means your relationship with Sears continues well after the installation takes place. Indeed, where your comfort and safety are concerned, there’s peace of mind in having Sears in your corner.

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This post has been brought to you by Sears Home Services. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.